A SPAT between Gannawarra Shire Council and the Cohuna Aviation Club has seen letters written to the Deputy Prime Minister and the local federal member allegedly questioning the Government’s commitment to the project.
It comes after a $2.57 million election commitment was announced in May as part of the Federal Government’s Regional Aviation Fund (RAF) to dramatically improve the facility to become an emergency air traffic hub — from lifesaving medical flights to heavy duty firefighting aircraft.
However Gannawarra Shire Council, as the land manager of the Cohuna Aerodrome, has claimed no consultation has taken place between the Aviation Club and council, and chief executive Tom O’Reilly is understood to have written to Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack seeking to confirm the validity of the funding.
Mr McCormack was in Echuca recently and reaffirmed the government’s commitment to the RAF and the Cohuna Aerodrome redevelopment.
“We’re committed to it, I know how important the project is and how important Cohuna is. We’re invested and we’re committed to Cohuna,” he said.
“And Peter Walsh has been on the phone to me almost on a weekly basis about this and about rural and regional Victoria in general.”
It is believed that Gannawarra Shire mayor Lorraine Learmonth also wrote to Member for Mallee Anne Webster regarding the announcement.
“They (the chief executive and the mayor) have written and I believe it is to put the Cohuna Airport funding in jeopardy. This is funding which the community has secured for the upgrade of the facility,” Gannawarra Shire councillor Sonia Wright said.
Cr Learmonth was contacted for comment and declined stating it was an ‘operational matter’.
Gannawarra Shire acting chief executive Stacy Williams said while council was aware of the funding announcement, it was not privy to the specifics of the funding as it isn’t directly involved.
“Gannawarra Shire Council is aware of the pre-election funding announcement for the Cohuna Aerodrome,” she said.
“It is our understanding that the project is being driven by some of the tenants and users however no formal approach has been made to council by the group.”
Ms Williams also didn’t confirm nor deny the existence of the communications between Mr McCormack and council or Cr Learmonth and Anne Webster.
Cohuna Aviation Club chairman Andrew Gibbs said Gannawarra Shire Council is only required to sign off on a depreciation acceptance of the facilities as it is the land manager.
“We remain on track for the complicated project to have engineers and planners start before Christmas with a tender process straight after,” Mr Gibbs said.
“In the meantime, the consultant has the last official task prior to tendering, and that is getting the shire across the line on requested depreciation acceptance, which is the only contribution asked of them.
“We would hope that is a mere formality and doesn't become a cause for drawn out debate.”